Conspiracy theories and misinformation spreading are typical features of an unprecedented situation, such as a global pandemic that is in the spotlight of media attention. But what is the effect of this phenomenon to seafarers, at a time when discussion about mental health issues is already at the top of shipping agenda?
We are not just fighting an epidemic. We are fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus and is just as dangerous,
-Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO.
Several factors associated with the nature of life onboard have been identified as having an adverse impact on seafarers’ mental health and COVID-19 is at the forefront of discussions in the last 6 months.
In a time when thousands of seafarers are trapped on ships due to travel restrictions in breach of their labor rights, increased connectivity is seen as positive for seafarers’ mental health enabling them to keep in touch with their beloved ones. And while adequate information is seen as positive in a time of crisis boosting their sense of belonging, the increased use of social media onboard hides a red zone: dangerous misinformation.
More specifically, the stress associated with the pandemic uncertainty can be easily exacerbated through fake news, which finds a fruitful ground in the era of social media. Although fake news hardly is a new phenomenon, the critical point to consider is that social media spreads disinformation at an unprecedented speed and reaches wider audiences far beyond the traditional limitations of distance.
How does fake news work?
Fake news refers to both misinformation (false information shared by misguided individuals) and disinformation (false information shared with the explicit intention to deliberately mislead its audience).
Spreading misinformation can start from:
- individuals, such as criminals, after some sort of profit;
- states and state-backed actors seeking to advance geopolitical interests;
- opportunists looking to discredit official sources.
Human attention is drawn to novelty, to things that are new and unexpected. We gain in status when we share novel information because it looks like we’re in the know, or that we have access to inside information,
…explained data scientist Sinan Aral, over 20 years ago.
In a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts,
…says Guy Berger is the Director for Policies and Strategies regarding Communication and Information, UNESCO.
Why is it more critical now?
Hence, Covid-19 creates the perfect case study for fake news to flourish. In a time of crisis, we’re desperate for information – and the public’s response to news is swift.
Particularly, misinformation about the virus can be dangerous, ranging from wide confusion and distrust to harmful fake coronavirus cures. A study conducted in the first months of the pandemic revealed that at least some 800 people died from misinformation, by drinking bleach to disinfect their bodies or eating cow dung to prevent infection.
Onboard a ship, increased stress due to isolation comes to act as a catalyst for seafarers to be more susceptible to fake news consuming.
Prominous examples of misinformation during COVID-19
- -“Coronavirus was made in a lab”
- -“Coronavirus can transmit through mosquito bites”
- -“African people are immune”
Did you know?
What can you do?
Did you know?
EUROPOL has shared several tips anyone can follow to help break the fake news chain:
1. Learn how to identify information:
-Be mindful – fake news will often tell you what you want to hear with clickbait headlines.
-Look around – is the website trustworthy? Check the website’s about page, mission and contact info.
-Check the sources – is any other news source reporting on the same thing? How many sources does the story quote?
-Photo search – is the news you are reading accompanied by a photo that strikes you as out of context? Run an online search, it might be your clue towards figuring out that this is an example of misinformation.
-Check the date – some news outlets re-publish old posts or promote old news as current stories. Check the publication date of the article and check if the timeline it refers to makes sense.
-Turn to the experts – go to reputable websites, such as the World Health Organization, your national health authority and the European Commission. Is the information also available there?
2. Since you have learned how to identify misinformation, do not engage with it, do not comment and do not share further. Doing so would just help make the post more popular.
3. If it was on social media, report the post to the platform. If you know the person who shared the fake news, send them a private message and tell them the information is likely false.
4. Finally, contribute to sharing official information. Share updates from trustworthy, official websites that report on COVID-19.
The world is changing fast, and so is the way we find out about it. Stop consuming yourself with science-fiction garbage. The truth is out there! And remember, fake news spreads when it is angry!
Did you know?
In May 2019, Singapore, a major maritime hub, passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, requiring online platforms, including social media, to issue corrections or remove content that the government deems false.